For politicos and other observers closely watching the 8th Congressional District race this year, Robert Menendez Jr. needs no introduction.
For one, he’s the son of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, a powerful and influential figure in Hudson County and New Jersey politics. Secondly, he’s got the backing of the Democratic establishment in the county, as well as statewide figures such as Gov. Phil Murphy and Senator Cory Booker, to potentially succeed retiring Rep. Albio Sires.
As for why he’s running for the Hudson County-based seat in Congress, Menendez Jr. said in an interview with the Hudson Reporter that the policies that he’s pushing for will help workers and families.
“I think when you look at the challenges that folks are facing, especially the 8th Congressional District, which is a largely working class and middle class community, the issues are impacting childcare, early childhood education, affordability, uplifting workers by supporting organized labor, creating more opportunities for [them]” he said.
“I think people want to see an investment in our communities, our families, and our well being.”
Affordability, healthcare and education
Menendez Jr., an attorney, has been at Lowenstein Sandler for over a decade, and has recently been counsel for them since 2018. He’s also been a commissioner on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey since June of last year, and is also board trustee for the Hudson School in Hoboken.
Menendez Jr., who currently lives in Jersey City, explained that there’s a sense of obligation “that we can’t wait any longer for someone else to turn the page,” following the Jan. 6 insurrection last year.
“I thought at that moment, a year ago, that we’d be turning the page on a dark chapter in our country’s history for years of the Trump presidency,” he said. “Instead, what we saw was an insurrection and attack on the Capitol.”
The biggest challenge that he sees for constituents in the 8th district is affordability, noting the rising inflation in the country. “Even with wages growing, people still feel like they’re not getting ahead,” he said. “That affordability stretches across housing, access to healthcare, [and] education.”
As he campaigns for the Democratic nomination, Menendez Jr. put forth a liberal policy platform to answer those issues, such as lowering the cost of prescription drugs, expanding who can get Medicare and Medicaid, and universal pre-K.
Going more in-depth on education, he’s advocating putting federal funding into creating school facilities, and also looking at vocational training and workforce development to create different pathways for those aside from four-year university. He’s also supportive of relieving up to $50,000 in student debt.
When it comes to housing, Menendez Jr. said that he’ll work on Democratic packages that lead to a “greater investment” in affordable housing and livable communities. “Not just thinking affordability, but thinking about housing our seniors, people with disabilities, and making sure that any public investment in housing, there’s also there’s a nexus to public transportation,” he said.
For immigration, Menendez Jr. supported “comprehensive” immigration reform, including bringing people fully into U.S. society, providing a pathway to citizenship and reworking the country’s visa programs so they can bring more people and provide more opportunities for the country to grow.
“We have an aging population and a shrinking workforce, so we’re gonna have have an issue in our labor market,” he said. “In my view, immigration’s a moral and humanitarian issue, but we should also think about as an economic issue, and if we want to drive real economic growth in this country, we need to provide a pathway to citizenship so people have full buy into what we offer as a country.”
When asked about his position on federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Menendez Jr. said that local governments shouldn’t be working with them when they divide families, but said that they serve a role in monitoring the country’s customs and boarders.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
One sticking point by many observers throughout the primary is how quickly the Democratic establishment coalesced around Menendez Jr. as soon as Sires announced his retirement back in December, even before he had officially announced his candidacy.
When asked about the criticism, Menendez Jr. didn’t answer directly and said that they’ve been connecting and bringing their message to voters. ”In my experience, people are very positive when you go out and talk to voters.”
As for how he plans to deal with the gridlock and polarization that Congress has become known for, he acknowledges that it will be a challenge, but said they should take a bipartisan approach to engage with people that don’t agree with them.
If Democrats lose their majority in the House, Menendez Jr. says that it’ll be important to continue looking for solutions at the legislative level for constituents, and providing access to federal resources.
For committees that he would like to serve on, he sees “realistically” looking at the Transportation and Infrastructure committee for his first term, noting the challenges in the district and the amount of infrastructure money coming in the state, and said that having a seat at the table and guiding money into the district would be “extremely important.”
With just about a month left until the June primary, Menendez’s message from earlier, he says, is that “we hear you, that we see you, that we know that this has been a difficult time for you as it’s been difficult for your family and communities.”
“We want to go work hard, every single day, [and] provide the best possible solutions that we can for you, for your families, [and] for our communities.”